Davis v. United States

512 U.S. 452 (1994)


D, a member of the United States Navy, spent the evening shooting pool at a club on the base. Another sailor, Keith Shackleton, lost a game and a $30 wager to D. Shackleton refused to pay. After the club closed, Shackleton was beaten to death with a pool cue on a loading dock behind the commissary. The body was found early the next morning. NIS agents determined that D was at the club that evening and that he was absent without authorization from his duty station the next morning. The agents also learned that only privately owned pool cues could be removed from the club premises, and D owned two cues - one of which had a bloodstain on it. The agents were told by various people that D either had admitted committing the crime or had recounted details that clearly indicated his involvement in the killing. D was interviewed and informed that he was a suspect in the killing. D was given Miranda warnings. D waived his rights to remain silent and to counsel, both orally and in writing. After 90 minutes, D stated that “Maybe I should talk to a lawyer.” The agents asked D to clarify that statement, and he said he was not seeking a lawyer. After a short break, the agents reminded D of his rights to remain silent and to counsel. The interview then continued for another hour, until petitioner said, “I think I want a lawyer before I say anything else.” At that point, questioning ceased. D moved to suppress statements made during the November 4 interview. The Military Judge denied the motion. D was convicted on one specification of unpremeditated murder. The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Military Review affirmed. The United States Court of Military Appeals granted discretionary review and affirmed. It recognized that the state and federal courts have developed three different approaches to a suspect's ambiguous or equivocal request for counsel: “Some jurisdictions have held that any mention of counsel, however ambiguous, is sufficient to require that all questioning cease. Others have attempted to define a threshold standard of clarity for invoking the right to counsel and have held that comments falling short of the threshold do not invoke the right to counsel. Some jurisdictions . . . have held that all interrogation about the offense must immediately cease whenever a suspect mentions counsel, but they allow interrogators to ask narrow questions designed to clarify the earlier statement and the [suspect's] desires respecting counsel.” They applied the third approach, the court held that D's comment was ambiguous and that the NIS agents properly clarified D's wishes with respect to counsel before continuing questioning him about the offense. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.